BAFTA-winning actress Miriam Margolyes today throws her weight behind the fight to save free TV licences for over-75s.
The Harry Potter star, 78, joined the battle to preserve the lifeline for millions of pensioners who face being stripped of their entitlement from June.
And she launched a blistering attack on Boris Johnson for failing to respond to a petition calling for action.
The campaign to maintain the £157.50-a-year benefit, which comes amid renewed uncertainty over the BBC's future funding, steps up a gear today with just 75 days until curbs on who can claim free licences come into force.
Miriam, who won a BAFTA for her role in 1993 film The Age of Innocence, and who played Professor Sprout in the Harry Potter series, said: “It is horrible to feel lonely and miss out on everyday contact with the ones you love.
“But that is the heartbreaking reality for so many older people who over the years have come to rely on their TV for company as well as entertainment and information.
“There’s lots of discussion at the moment about the future of the BBC, and its licence fee, but let’s not forget that in the here and now hundreds of thousands of vulnerable older people are facing the loss of their free licence, risking their ability to watch the programmes they love.
“The BBC and the Government have to find a way forward that puts older people’s fears to rest and allows their TV licences to stay free.”
Turning her guns on the Prime Minister, the Labour supporter hit out at Mr Johnson for not responding to a petition of 630,000 signatures, which was delivered to Downing Street last year.
"Boris Johnson should have responded by now – it's a dereliction of duty,” she said.
"The Prime Minister…. is just not coming to the table."
She described the Government's position as "vindictive, political hardplay," adding: "It's outrageous and must be fought."
Pensioners are "going to have to choose between paying for their licence and having that bit of extra money to buy food, pay for heating and live their lives”.
"It's an intolerable and difficult choice," she said in an Age UK video.
"The Government and BBC are at loggerheads at the moment and the piggy in the middle are the pensioners.
“The people over-75 are being punished.
"It's disgraceful and I think it is the Government's responsibility to care for its old people."
Corporation chiefs admitted last week that no “meaningful” talks had taken place with ministers about how to maintain free licences for over-75s.
BBC director-general Lord Tony Hall said it was “conceivable” 90-year-olds could be dragged to court for failing to buy a licence.
The Conservatives pledged at the 2017 election to protect free licences for the over-75s for the rest of that Parliament, which was due to run until 2022.
But the BBC had already been handed responsibility for funding the lifeline from June, under a deal stitched up in 2015.
The PM has previously called on the corporation to “cough up” and keep free licences.
The BBC says continuing to offer the benefit for all over-75s would cost £745million – a fifth of its budget – by 2021-22.
From June, only over-75s receiving Pension Credit will be eligible – meaning 80%, some 3.7 million OAPs, will have to pay.
The Mirror is campaigning to save free licences, with more than 18,000 readers backing the fight by completing coupons in the paper.
Age UK charity director Caroline Abrahams said: “In recent weeks there has been a vigorous debate in the media about how to fund the BBC in the future, but let’s remember that within a much shorter timescale the over-75 free TV licence is set to disappear, with serious consequences for many older people.
“It’s great that Miriam is helping to draw attention to their plight and we sincerely hope that the Government and the BBC listen and respond.
“Time may be short but it is not too late for these free TV licences to be saved if the political will is there to do so.”
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